Improving Design Presentations By Keeping the Client in Mind

Blair Culbreth, Director of Visual Design

Article Category: #Design & Content

Posted on

If you're struggling to take your design presentations from good to great, try these tips that focus on how your presentation makes a client feel.

In school you learn that "great design speaks for itself." And the instant you're out of school, you learn there's actually a lot of speaking involved. Great design deserves a strong advocate, as it turns out. Good, well-prepared presentations make it easier to build trust with a client, champion your hard work, and get your ambitious ideas approved.

If hearing "be a better presenter and speaker" fills you with dread, I get it. But I'm not here to say "stop saying umm,” or "project your voice to the back of the room.” Improving your design presentations doesn't have to be about being a better orator, or becoming someone who could step up to do a TedTalk at a moment's notice. (It certainly helps, but it's not for everyone.) Rather, my tips are about focusing on how the client feels throughout your design presentation. These tips fall under five Feelings Buckets:

  • The client feels like their time is being respected.

  • The client feels like they are respected.

  • The client feels confident in themselves and their role in the process.

  • The client feels confident in your work (and you).

  • The client feels comfortable.

How you actually present will vary depending on your own personality and what feels authentic to you; however you go about it, keeping these in mind will benefit both your presentation and relationship with your client.

The client feels like their time is being respected.

Their team is busy, your team is busy. It probably took work to finagle everyone's schedules to be here at the same time. But this project is important to them, so they've made it a priority. Show that you understand and share their level of investment by respecting their time.

  • Be prepared! Make sure you sound prepared and your thoughts are organized. Don’t be so casual that it sounds like this is the first time you’ve looked at this deck or these designs.

  • Even if your slides are simple, make sure they're polished. No typos! Make sure your content is easy to understand, clearly laid out, and relevant. Hold their hand through your logic, your creative solutions, and the constraints and best practices you're working with. Give them what they need so they can judge your designs fairly and with all the needed context.

  • Don’t just read your slides out loud verbatim. Summarize and hit the slide’s key points.

  • Know your timing. Build time in for questions and feedback at the end. If the timing gets off track as it is wont to do, reprioritize (e.g., “I realize we only have fifteen minutes left, so I’m going to skim X so we can discuss Y while we’re here together”).

The client feels like they are respected.

Consider it common courtesy. They're people, trying their best, wanting a new site that accomplishes their goals and lives up to their hopes and dreams. They don't do redesigns every day – that’s why they hired an expert like you.

  • Have an open, engaged mindset to receiving feedback. You don’t want the client clamming up because they don’t feel like they can be candid and honest with you.

  • Ask follow-up questions to get to the heart of their feedback. (Asking why, and why again)

  • Don’t be afraid to disagree with the client or push back. Explain your reasoning and educate them as you go. You are the expert in the room, and any reasonable client would want to know when their ideas or feedback would ultimately be a disservice to the final product, or counterproductive to their own goals.

  • If the request is straightforward or doesn’t naturally lend itself to discussion beyond a “yeah, we can do that,” still try to incorporate that open and engaged spin on your answer. “Yes, and…” it a bit. Or add some positive reinforcement. “Yes, we can do that. …And thanks for bringing that up, it’ll be good for our X, Y, and Z goals.”

  • Be present. Don’t get distracted by Slack messages or phone notifications.

The client feels confident in themselves and their role in the process.

Like we’ve already mentioned, the client probably doesn’t do a big design project every day. You’re the expert here. And as the expert, are you giving them the tools they need to contribute to and understand the project? Do they know what to expect and what you need them to do? When we’re thrown into situations outside our area of expertise, it’s easy to become defensive or tense, so take the time to build trust with the client and hold their hand throughout the project. A client who is informed, deeply understands the project, and can buy into your approach to the design can become your strongest advocate within their company.

  • Lay out clear expectations at a high level. Refresh them on the goals and opportunities that you’ve both already aligned on in the earlier discovery and strategy phases of the project.

  • Lay out clear expectations at a practical level. What are we reviewing today? What are we NOT reviewing? What feedback is helpful at this point? In this presentation, are we focusing on the usability of the layout, the style updates, or both? Will we see both desktop and mobile? If only one, when will we see the other? Set them up for success, not stress and confusion.

  • Educate as you go. Even if they say they understand a UX best practice, accessibility standard, or how flexible CMS modules work, it doesn’t hurt to explain it. That way you know for sure that their entire group has the same shared understanding or a concept that your team does.

  • Make the information in your deck digestible and clear. Connect dots, build your case. Make them feel excited, smarter, and better informed for having seen your presentation.

  • Could anyone who wasn’t in the meeting look at your deck and understand your point? The reality is that your deck might be passed around on their side after the meeting. Have your key points in writing in the deck. Call out and annotate important pieces of the design in a slide.

  • What are the next steps after this meeting? What are their action items? Where are we within the process? Make all this clear with a slide showing where you are within the project timeline up front, and a slide of “next steps” at the end.

  • When you’re wrapping up a feedback discussion, repeat the agreed-upon updates back to them. Make sure you’re all on the same page about what’s getting revised.

The client feels confident in your work (and you).

You have been entrusted with the client’s site. That’s a nerve-wracking position for them. Put them at ease by demonstrating that their hopes and dreams are in good hands with you.

  • Have an attitude that conveys that this project is as important to you as it is to them. You’re excited to be on it. You’re excited about the work. You’re here, you’re invested, you’re ready.

  • We’ve said it a couple times already, but you are the design expert here. Embrace it, own it. The client expects you to be an expert. Don’t let yourself be so humble it’s to the detriment of their trust. If waves of confidence don’t naturally roll off of you, how will you compensate? Will you go into extra deep explanations of your design thinking? Will you impress them with extra ideas and more design variants? Find what feels authentic to you.

  • When you’re talking through the design work, speak persuasively. You aren’t a used car salesman, but you are trying to sell them on your work.

  • Be real, be candid. Don’t be afraid to admit to a mistake or even just changing your mind about a decision as the design evolved.

The client feels comfortable.

Note their demeanor and be willing to adjust a bit. Is everyone on the client side very formal and serious? Step up your own professional and polished vibes. Or are they chatty and fun? You’re meeting with this group for weeks or months, it’s worth building rapport. Be honest with yourself if one vibe comes much more naturally to you than the other and prepare accordingly.

And if all else fails, try to stop saying "umm." If you succeed, please let me know your secret.

Blair Culbreth

Blair is a visual design director in our Boulder, CO, office. She crafts intuitive, emotionally driven design for our clients including VolunteerMatch, the Lupus Foundation of America, and other national non-profits.

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